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Thursday, 11 September 1958


Mr KEARNEY (Cunningham) . - Mr. Temporary Chairman, I wish to discuss the Estimates for the Northern Territory, which provide for an expenditure of £4.938,000 in the current financial year. Earlier this evening, the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson) made two very pungent points. He gave the Government a serious warning about the restive condition of the people of the Territory, and he criticized the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck) for his failure to adhere to an undertaking given in this chamber two days ago when he spoke about the constitutional troubles that are developing in the Territory. The undertaking was that ample time would be allowed for the consideration of these Estimates. That is clearly stated in the report of the Minister's speech in " Hansard ". The honorable member for the Northern Territory has pointed out that ample time is not being allowed to permit of proper discussion. Of course, it is not. In an- hour, we are expected to dispose- of a group of proposed votes totalling some £36,-000,000. All this expenditure will come out of the taxpayers' money. The Government's approach has been one of silence. In the last hour, we have not heard one Government supporter, apart' from two Ministers, attempt to discuss these important Estimates. They treat the issues involved with the silence of contempt.


Mr Duthie - And they did not discuss them, either.


Mr KEARNEY - They did not get down to details. The important matter that I wish to mention is the constitutional revolt that is taking place in the Northern Territory. Recently, the elected members of the Northern Territory Legislative Council resigned in a body. After having had ample time to produce a plan and formulate proposals designed to remedy the grievances of the territorians, the Government has failed to produce anything. At this late hour in the life of this Parliament, the Minister for Territories has completely rebutted any suggestion that effective legislation will be introduced in this sessional period to deal with this important issue. The Government's attitude amounts to a display of arrogant contempt for the territorians, whom it intends to neglect completely. This is- clearly intended by the attitude of Government supporters towards this debate tor-night.

As the honorable member for the Northern Territory has pointed out, the warnings are serious. This Government has been juggling with the fate of the Northern Territory for nine years, and it has failed to produce anything in the nature of a concerted overall national plan for the development of this important part of Australia. In fact, the Government, in respect to its policy for the Northern Territory, may be likened to a buffalo in a bog. It is completely without motion and it has no intention of proceeding anywhere.

In further rebuttal of any idea that the Government has plans for effective action in the Northern Territory,, we have its silence about the deplorable housing conditions endured by the people of the Territory. The honorable member for Stirling (Mr. Webb), who preceded me, spoke about the Kimberleys and the Ord River area. Throughout the northern part of this great continent, we need, above everything else, proper housing for the people. The- honorable member for the Northern Territory has given us facts which indicate that the family man cannot obtain a Home in the Northern Territory, and no provision is being made for the construction of homes for the workers there. Only people of affluence can establish their families with comfort in the north.


Mr Cope - The worst slums in Australia are to be found in the Northern Territory.


Mr KEARNEY - Of course they are the worst slums in Australia. Honorable members who have visited the Territory in the last two years have seen ample evidence of that. I have visited the Territory and I was deeply impressed by the difficulties that face the average worker there. The wage level, in real terms, is substantially below the wage level of workers in similar callings in New- South Wales and other parts in the south. The cost of living of the average family, in my estimation, is £5 a week higher in the Northern Territory than along the eastern coast of Australia. In view- of these circumstances, the worker in the Northern Territory is in a condition of economic bondage. In my opinion, the Government should provide some kind of wage bonus for workers in the Territory in order to encourage people to go there. We badly need more people there; we need, above all, families. Climatic conditions are such that white people can settle the north. Yet we still have the frontier atmosphere - and it is indeed a frontier But this Government is content to move, if it moves at all, at a snail's pace. We must encourage workers to go to the Northern Territory and develop it; but the Government will never do that.

The honorable member for the Northern Territory has told us of the condition of the education system in the Territory and its many other great problems. Conversations that 1 had with local residents when I was in the Territory made it abundantly clear to me that the average worker there, whether government or privately employed, could not afford to send his children beyond high school stage, and sometimes not even beyond the primary school stage. He certainly could not afford to give them a university education, and there is no provision for general trade or technical training. Only people of substantial means in the Northern Territory can be sure of educating their children properly, Mr. Chairman.

The honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) spoke earlier of the excellence of the schools in the Australian Capital Territory. Conditions in the schools here are in sharp contrast with those in Northern Territory schools, as indicated by the honorable member who represents the Territory in this Parliament. In other words, the Government distinguishes sharply and snobbishly between the children in the Australian Capital Territory and those in the Northern Territory, although all are Australians and all are entitled to a proper and equal education. The future of this country is dependent upon the training of its children, whether born here or in the Northern Territory, but this Government permits an enormous difference between facilities and services in the two places.


Mr Barnard - Perhaps the two Ministers concerned should exchange portfolios.


Mr KEARNEY - There is no question of that. In view of the Government's and the Minister's refusal to heed the just grievances which led to the mass resignation of the elected members of the Northern Territory Legislative Council, T am sure that we shall see further trouble develop. The remarks of the honorable member for the Northern Territory, who has brought this matter to the Government's attention vigorously and ably at every available opportunity, made that clear. 1 condemn the Government emphatically for its failure to rise to the occasion and realize that if we do not develop the north and populate it somebody else will do so. Darwin may become a battleground again in our lifetime, but next time we may not win. Our shield is a populated Northern Territory.







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